BENT OUT OF SHAPE at the Design Exchange (234 Bay), to October 10. $10, stu/srs $8. 416-363-6121. Rating: NNN
Who are Canada's design superheroes? Bent Out of Shape: Canadian Design 1945-Present doesn't quite aim to answer that question. Nonetheless, after visiting the show - which tells our industrial design history quickly in punchy, pop art style - design newbies will probably feel they've discovered at least a few blueprint-wielding Supermen and Wonder Women.
One of the great delights of the show is finding out about the talented Canuck individuals behind ultra-familiar objects. Fred Moffatt, for instance, won international design medals for his humble portable heaters and is revered for "revolutionizing the electric kettle." Thor Hansen is the self-taught Scandinavian immigrant behind iconic Group-of-Seven-like textiles. Even designers of ubiquitous plastic thermoses and one-in-every-garage Noma cord caddies (Julian Rowan and b&b Design Associates respectively) get acknowledged, lending warm fuzzies to super-utilitarian stuff.
The Roy Lichtensteinesque exhibition panels are another high point. Campy and cute, they add colour to what could easily have been a dry, academic exercise. In a related move, the inclusion of 13 of today's innovative designers helps viewers connect past influences and present-day talent. (The Brothers Dressler's in-demand rocking chair and Thomas Lamb's MoMA-collected chaise longue both use bent wood, for instance.)
On the downside, the "national" history here comes off a bit Ontario-centric. The DX assembled the show from its own collection, so that's where the geographic focus is bound to fall. Select designerati might also haggle about the museum's contemporary practitioner picks. Beloved Bookhou is here, for instance, but not much-buzzed Castor.
These problems aside, Bent Out Of Shape offers a surprisingly patriotic and political experience. Noting NAFTA's damaging effect on Canadian manufacturers, exhibition panels call for a national design policy like the one the UK has in place and that China, Korea and the U.S. are developing. It's clear from this show that Canadian talent merits the same world-class support.